Saturday, February 03, 2007

Lights Out

The following letter of mine is slated to appear in the Hampton Roads Business Journal:

"The lights are going out all over Europe" - and in America, too.

That is what I usually append to Edward R. Murrow's famous observation of Nazi Germany swallowing more of Europe in the lead-up to World War II, when I read of another smoking ban or a proposal for one. At first glance, the connection of smoking bans with Hitler might seem a fatuous association. It really isn't, not in the historical particulars, not in the broader, fundamental sense.

Hitler was as rabid a non-smoker as any U.S. surgeon general, and if he'd won the war, had plans to ban smoking throughout Pax Germanica, the better to protect a healthier, "pure" Aryan race and a healthier population of slaves, all of them living for the state.

Well, they are going out again in Europe, again, only the aggressor now is an axis of the health bureaucrat, the nonsmoker, and the ubiquitous statistic. Britain and France, for example, have both legislated nation-wide bans that will take the pleasure out of dining out and having a good time.

I recalled Murrow's observation again when I read Mary Worrell's "Owners worry ban will send business up in smoke" in the January 8-14 Hampton Roads Business Journal. "A potential ban on all smoking in Norfolk restaurants has some business owners seeing red - not black," she wrote. They have every right to worry about the fate of their businesses. But, over the past, in numerous articles like Worrell's about smoking bans in California and New York City and Chicago and elsewhere, I have read the same complaints of restaurant and bar owners who predict drastic reductions in their business and even financial ruin. They argue, basically, from the perspective of practicality and unfairness. That, however, in the long run, is a futile and impractical position to take.

I have yet to see any property owners invoke the right to private property. I have yet to see any restaurateur or publican take a moral stand against the arbitrary, selective seizure of his business or property. For that is what smoking bans amount to. Like the policy of eminent domain enacted in favor of other private interests (re the Kelo decision by the Supreme Court, and other such cases), in which homes and businesses are condemned, seized, and destroyed to make way for other private, higher tax -revenue-garnering developments, smoking bans are, in effect, arbitrary seizures of private property in favor of a particular segment of the public or a particular group of people, namely, nonsmokers.

So, when one gets beneath all the propaganda about the alleged health risks of smoking, all the guff about protecting "our children" (whose?), all the tilted statistics about the dangers of secondhand smoke, and all the government-encouraged vilification of smoking and smokers (largely paid for by compliant tobacco companies, no less), all there is to see is just the ogre of political power exercising itself on a targeted, defenseless minority at the behest of an alleged majority.

"The city could be messing with fire if revenues at restaurants are hit by an ordnance banning smoking, which could equate to decreased food and beverage tax revenues, Bourn said," writes Worrell. "You can't legislate social behavior." Chad Bourn owns a retail tobacco store in Norfolk.

But petit tyrants can legislate "social behavior," and will, if they think they can get away with it. They believe they own everyone, that men exist by their whim and by grace of their permission and act and conduct their lives according to their rules. And they can do that if the victims sanction that kind of power. One of the most ironic terms that politicians dress themselves in is "public servant." But, if one is paying taxes to pay these "servants" to make it increasingly difficult to live and conduct business in the name of some dubious "public good," who is the servant, and who is the master?

It costs the "public servant" nothing to pass laws against smoking, trans fats, and cholesterol-heavy foods and whatever else activist, intrusive Chicken-Littles rail against; it costs the opponents of those laws a fortune if not their livelihoods if they decide to revolt against such laws. Modern lawyers, after all, will not advocate a moral approach to the issue. That, they would say, would be "impractical." They are not of the same passionate mettle as, say, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, and everyone should know what happened when they dug in their heels. Neither man, incidentally, was a smoker, but they would both be incredulous about how much freedom Americans have surrendered to big tyrants (the feds), and petit tyrants (the governing council of any city you wish to name).

Worrell concludes her article:

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that even with proper ventilation, secondhand smoke exposure is not eliminated and that establishing smoke-free environments is the only effective way to protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke. The CDC also cites homes and workplaces as the primary locations where nonsmokers are exposed to secondhand smoke."

Well, the government speaks, so it must be true.

The nation, and not just Hampton Roads or Norfolk, is creeping by increments to outright statism, that is, a "democracy" in which everyone lives for the sake of everyone else, and, ultimately, for the state. If the business owners of Norfolk plan to put up a good fight against their tyrants, they had better stand on the principle of their individual rights. They should proclaim: This is my property, and if you can't abide smoking or secondhand smoke, go elsewhere, or start your own restaurant. This is not a "public service," nor is it a "public place."

If they don't take a moral stand, and expose the tyrants for what they are, and what is truly at stake, then more lights will go out in America, and in this state, which over two hundred years ago lit the torch of revolution. It appears as such a petty issue - the rights of smokers and restaurateurs - but resistance to the Stamp Act of 1765 heralded a greater revolution.

Learn from history, gentlemen.


Anonymous said...

"To prohibit the use of certain poisonous substances or to require special precautions in their use, to limit working hourse or to require certain sanitary conditions, is fully compatable with the preservation of competition. The only question here is whether in the particular instance the advantages gained are greater then the social costs imposed."
-F.A. Hayek, "The Road to Serfdom" (Chapter 3)

Jack Galt said...

All the above quote (since it offers no evidence or fact to justify its claim) proves is that Hayek was a dubious defender of individual rights.

Anonymous said...

Hayek: "The only question here is whether in the particular instance the advantages gained are greater then the social costs imposed."

The question is: Advantages gained by whom? Social costs imposed on whom?

All of these "advantages" or "costs" are imposed on individuals. Who has the right to determine that it is proper to impose a "cost" on one person for the "advantage" of another?

Hayek's argument (as exemplified in this quote) is not based on individual rights. Without individual rights as its base, his argument justifies governments getting into the business of taking from some for the "social good" of others. Hayek's argument, instead of defending capitalism, actually puts us on the road to serfdom.

Bill K. said...

The lights will be going out in Europe literally if they continue to follow the logic of their global warming rhetoric. Between the Islamofacists and the global warming fascists this is a doomed civilization.

Roger said...

Private property is sacrosanct without which individual rights would be meaningless; however, the initiation of force by someone is a violation of another's individual rights and must be prevented - by self-defense in an emergency and by government, which exists solely to prevent such force in all other situations. I see the smoke and foul-order produced by a smoker as an assault on my body as direct as if the smoker where to attack my life, which in disputed fact they may be doing. I see a business that is not a closed private-membership-operation as functioning with the protection of the state and hence subject to the law of the non-initiation of force. A smoking ban in such places, open to the public of all ages, is proper in that it is preventing assault of non-smokers.
I haven't fully worked out this aspect in my own mind, but think that it is appropriate in a free society. Just as any business could claim not to serve a certain clientele based on whatever prejudice the business owner might hold, it is appropriate for the government to protect those discriminated against. If a business declares itself to be a private operation and does not allow access to all but members, then it would be wrong to force the business to cater to all. If it is "proved" that cigarette smoke damages the health of a child, it would be correct to require that mom doesn't smoke in a closed car with kiddy - makes as much sense as child restraint seats. But motorcycle helmets and seat belts for adults crosses the line. To prohibit you from using tobacco in your own home, alone or with consenting adults, would be wrong. To prohibit you from assaulting others with your smoke is not wrong.